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‘How typo made me spend 14 years in prison’

Mr Addai dancing at a thanksgiving service held shortly after his release, in Abeokuta

In 2005, thirty Nigerian prisoners were serving jail terms in Thailand for peddling drugs. Then-president Olusegun Obasanjo stepped in, secured their release and repatriated them. Daily Trust Saturday learnt that one of the conditions the Thai government gave for their release was that the prisoners would complete their jail terms in the home country, which they did. The Nigerian government later granted them pardon, and all but one of them were freed.

Derrick Addai, 48, had his name omitted from the list of pardoned inmates, even as another inmate’s name appeared twice. The typographical error would later turn out to be Addai’s albatross, as he spent 14 years behind bars, after his fellow inmates had been freed.

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Last Week, Addai was released from prison in Ogun State, through the intervention of the Osile of Oke-Ona, Oba Adedapo Tejuoso, who doubles as the Board Chairman of the Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (PREMI), as well as that of the Director-General of the organisation, Bishop Kayode Williams.

About his bitter experience, after his release in Abeokuta, Addai told Daily Trust Saturday that he spent five years and six months in a Thai prison from the year 2000, and returned to Nigeria in 2005. “I had to spend complete 14 years in a Nigerian prison again, as my name was omitted from the list of pardoned people. I spent time and money writing for it to be corrected, but it didn’t work out,” he narrated.

“It happened that when they brought the list from Aso Rock, the envelope was sealed. I was there, and they asked me to open the letter. When I did, I saw 30 names on the list, so I just dropped it and left. Later, we were called back that the names are short of one, even though the numbers are complete. It was confusing. We called on Obasanjo and other people involved. They asked the officials to bring it to the office and when the man that made the list saw it, he insisted that it’s not the one he sent to us. He asked me to give him two days, and those two days never happened, until now.”

Addai said farming, sports, and regular exercise kept him alive, despite the deplorable condition of the prison. When asked what’s next for him after gaining freedom, he said he will exit Nigeria: “I have nobody here; my family is in Europe.”

Oba Tejuoso expressed gladness to be part of the process that led to Addai’s freedom. He however lamented congestion in Nigerian prisons, and called for reformation across the nation. “Prison that is meant for 300 people, you will find 1,000 staying there. And what is responsible for this is that people awaiting trial are just left to rot there. Also, there aren’t even enough personnel to look after them,” he said.

Oba Tejuoso advocated for the removal of prisons from the Exclusive List to Concurrent List to allow adequate management of prison facilities by the states. “Each state itself can also control what goes on in prisons, and also fund it, rather than waiting for the Federal Government to foot the expenses,” he said.

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